Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell
by Jerome Armstrong, Tue Aug 31, 2010 at 12:25:39 PM EDT
Jamie Court has a book just out called "A Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell" that is a good counter-point to the opinion raised in yesterday's post that Obama is fulfilling the populist position for the left. In the first chapter, while confronting the speaker of the California Assembly, Fabian Núñez, Court points out the fundamental problem with this assertion:
They believed in insider connections, political machinery, and the money that greased both. To them, it was just a question of which team, red or blue, would marshal its resources and get there firrst. They were the blue squad. For me, genuine change has always been born of an uncontainable populism that knew no party. Perhaps that’s why I was as frank as I was when my turn came.
... The back-and-forth turned to the governor’s plan for mandatory private health insurance purchases and Schwarzenegger’s refusal to regulate the industry to make sure that people could afford to pay the premiums. This turned out to be the very debate that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would have six months later in the heat of the primary. Obama won by opposing mandatory health insurance purchases, taking on the populist view, but later reversed himself during his first year in office. It was one of a series of betray- als on health care reform during Obama’s first year that undermined his support among his progressive base and independents.... Barack Obama, whose campaign my colleagues and I never talked to, used our talking points, almost verbatim, to attack Clinton’s mandatory purchase plan. At the time no one in America was making the same arguments in the same way as Consumer Watchdog was. California was on the cutting edge of the debate, and some of my arguments in a Los Angeles Times op-ed about the parallel to mandatory auto insurance laws later became the basis for Obama campaign statements. Obama said, “The reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.” Obama had a platform. We had a populist message. The public had a strong opinion that turned out to be a defining difference in who became the Democratic nominee.
Barack Obama, whose campaign my colleagues and I never talked to, used our talking points, almost verbatim, to attack Clinton’s mandatory purchase plan. At the time no one in America was making the same arguments in the same way as Consumer Watchdog was. California was on the cutting edge of the debate, and some of my arguments in aLos Angeles Times op-ed about the parallel to manda- tory auto insurance laws later became the basis for Obama campaign statements. Obama said, “The reason people don’t have health insur- ance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it.” Obama had a platform. We had a populist message. The public had a strong opinion that turned out to be a defining difference in who became the Democratic nominee.
Flash forward to January 2010, Obama’s one-year anniversary in the Oval Office. To win moderate Democratic support for health reform legislation, President Obama had months before agreed to mandatory health insurance purchases for every U.S. citizen, the very kind of “reality-based” politics he had criticized Hillary Clinton for. He also jettisoned from the legislation the so-called public option to the private health insurers, another key campaign plank. Even earlier in his presidency he had cut a deal with pharmaceutical companies not to subject them to new government bulk purchasing that would lower prescription drug costs in exchange for the industry’s support for health reform legislation. The populist campaigner had given in to every cash-rich industry in the health care reform debate so as not to incur their wrath. While he railed against the power of money in Washington on the campaign trial, he bowed to the big-money donors at pivotal moments once he occupied the Oval Office. These critical turning points not only guaranteed that health care reform, as written by Congress, would not be cost-effective, but confirmed for the watchful public that Obama was not an authentic reformer.
Quickly, the public bit back in Massachusetts on January 19, 2010, when the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death suddenly turned into a referendum on Obama’s leadership. The Massachusetts electorate, which had more independents by 2010 than either Democrats or Republicans, took away the Democrats’ supposed flibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama Democrats stayed home, while a strong turnout of Republicans and a swing contingent of independents gave Scott Brown the edge.
Those who study politics look for such tipping points because they understand that momentum is the key force in politics. The GOP proved it could disguise itself as outsiders and retake power. The White House would have to get back in touch with the people or pay a price.
That last paragraph is key imo. I would only point earlier for the undermining that went on before this tipping point. First, back to the bank bailouts in the spring of 2009, as what undermined Obama's support among progressives, libertarians, and independents that he was real change. Second, later that year, by following through on his minimalist campaign pledge to send two additional brigades to Afghanistan, as a back-door means to send over 60,000 with his own surge of troops. And then, yes, the tipping point, where he caves to allow the betrayal of a multi-generational Democratic Party promise to deliver universal healthcare that is public, by instead making it an individual mandate to buy corporate insurance.
In the extended entry, I'll layout the formula that Court's book (available through Chelsea Green) has for making progressive change happen.
Here are the five steps necessary for any campaign to succeed at creating change.
Step 1: Expose. Exposing new information about opponents—facts that conflict with the image they put forth in public—shows how out of touch with public opinion those opponents are.
Step 2: Confront. Confronting our opponents on the battleground of our values creates a debate, an unfolding drama, over popular values through which a campaign can be won.
Step 3:Wait for the mistakes. The goal of all advocacy is to force our opponents’ mistakes, which gives us the ability to shame our opponents and force them to either do what we want or lose more power.
Step 4: Make the mistakes the issue. If your opponent is ashamed or sorry, he will adopt your proposals or negotiate in good faith. If not, repeat steps 1 to 3 to force more mistakes and gain more leverage.
Step 5: Don’t let go. Persistence often turns up the key lead, connection, or exposure that tips the campaign your way; keep your teeth in their tail until they agree to your terms.
Every successful campaign for change that I have been involved in or witnessed has boiled down to these basic steps. President Obama’s failure during his first year as president to lead a genuine populist movement for change is directly the result of his failure to follow this formula. I can count on two hands the elected officials in Washington, D.C., today who practice this art regularly. A lot of politicians’ efforts are geared toward credit and cameras, not creating the friction in the political establishments that’s necessary to catalyze change. In the near future, though, the fate of presidents, politicians, and parties will depend on whether they listen to the public when it speaks. The fate of change will depend upon how the public voices its opinion. Our opponents, as well as many of our allies, typically underestimate the great leveling force of public opinion. But change makers win by seizing upon popular opinion and forcing a confrontation with their opponents’ views from the high ground of populist values.
If President Obama had stood on the high ground of these values in his first year and confronted members of his own party who stood in the way of change, his public standing would be greater, and more progressive reform proposals would already be laws. The next gener- ation of progressive leaders, or a reborn Obama, will have to learn from such mistakes. The public will not have its thirst for change quenched until such confrontations occur.
But how does an outsider know the opportunities for real change on the inside so she can seize them? How does an outsider create a record of progress on his or her issue—an essential aspect to moving that issue forward—if insiders don’t want to listen? When and where is the best opportunity to catalyze change from the outside?
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